News Story

Michigan a Top 10 State In Per Capita Spending on K-12 Education

State spends much more than Massachusetts, Minnesota

Despite claims that public education in Michigan is perpetually underfunded, a fact check shows otherwise.

According to newly released data, Michigan ranks 9th nationally in per-pupil spending on elementary and secondary education when per capita income is figured into the equation. That means that after controlling for the varying levels of wealth among the 50 states, Michigan schools spend more on average than 41 other states.

These statistics are from 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. The U.S. Department of Commerce released the information last month.

In addition, the data reveals telltale facts about some of the states that advocates of higher K-12 spending often point to as models Michigan should emulate. When per capita income is figured into the calculation, some of these states actually lag far behind Michigan in per-pupil spending.

Massachusetts is perhaps the most striking example. According to the new data, Massachusetts is ranked 7th in overall (state, plus federal) per-pupil revenue at $16,495. However, after per capita income is factored in, Massachusetts isn't even among the top 30 states in terms of its K-12 spending effort. That means 30-plus states, including Michigan, dig deeper into their available resources to provide K-12 funding than Massachusetts does.

There is a push for increased K-12 dollars in virtually every state. In light of the data released in May, the question has arisen as to whether Massachusetts has been spending enough on K-12 education.

"It's well-established in the education research literature that there's virtually no relationship between how much schools spend and how much their students achieve," said Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "Nevertheless, it's not surprising that schools continually lobby for more funding. It makes the jobs of school officials much easier when there's more money available to spend."

Minnesota is another state that the "spend more on K-12" advocates have used as an example for Michigan to follow. With a per-pupil K-12 revenue level of $13,464, Minnesota is ranked 16th among the 50 states. Yet, the data shows that, when adjusted for per capita income, Minnesota ranks 29th nationally, which is 20 spots below Michigan.

With or without adjusting for per capita income, the data shows that Michigan's K-12 spending is higher than the spending levels of most other states. It has remained so in spite of the one-state recession it experienced during the last decade.

Michigan's $12,644 per-pupil revenue in 2011 gave it a ranking of 21st among the 50 states.

"Even after one of the worst recessions in state history, Michigan still puts forth an above-average effort in funding its public school system," Van Beek said. "These dollars might not stretch as far as they used to, especially with an expensive and unsustainable pension system that eats up more funding than ever before, but Michigan devotes more resources to its public schools compared to most other states."

The rankings do not include the District of Columbia, which consistently spends more per-pupil than any state, while getting relatively poor academic results. However, it has been suggested that it is more appropriate to compare D.C. to cities, such as Baltimore or Detroit, than to states.

Other statistics revealed in the data include:

  • Michigan had $18.4 billion in revenue for K-12 in 2011;
  • Michigan was 20th in per-pupil operational spending in 2011;
  • Michigan ranked 10th in operations spending, when adjusted for per capita income in 2011; and
  • In 2011, Michigan increased per-pupil spending for the 6th consecutive year, which occurred while overall spending nationwide decreased.

Nancy Knight, spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union that perpetually lobbies for more money, did not respond to a request for comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.